Jordana Stein was the first person to use the mikvah in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. She held open the double doors and walked through, passing stunning decor and even a waterfall on the way to immerse herself in the community’s newly established ritual bath. “It was different from anything I’ve ever experienced,” reports the local resident. “It was wonderful.”
Playa del Carmen is about an hour south of Cancun, one of the country’s most popular international tourist resorts. Before this mikvah was built, the closest one was in Florida, a 50-minute flight away to the east, followed by Mexico City, almost two hours west by plane.
Building a mikvah has been a priority for Chabad co-directors Rabbi Mendel and Chaya Goldberg since they moved to the area three years ago, in July 2010.
“There was a very big demand until now for the mikvah, so it’s going to serve its purpose,” says the rabbi.
Chaya Goldberg says she hadn’t imagined they would be able to open its doors in less than three years, but is thrilled that they did. Construction started last October. The mikvah officially opened for use this summer.
About 50 families from all over—Israel, Canada, Belgium, France—make up the Jewish community there. They come for business ventures, for time shares and home investments, and for retirement. Tourists also wind up at the synagogue.
“They come in off the beach, on their way back to their hotels,” says Goldberg. “And they always wind up coming back. As for the permanent residents, some have never stepped into a shul at times other than the High Holidays, but here, it’s so relaxed that they do, and we are offered the opportunity to enrich their lives.”
Something That Speaks to Them
The mikvah is a fundamental mitzvah and a requirement for religious women; the laws offamily purity and marital relations depend on it. That’s why it remains one of the first things built when a Chabad center is established, particularly in more remote locations where other options are limited.
The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—made it a point that new mikvahs be constructed as attractive, aesthetic, contemporary places. As such, the new facility in Mexico is replete with marble and granite, designed by an interior designer/architect who also designed the area’s resorts.
Goldberg has also stocked the mikvah with fine soaps and spa products. She insists that women will be drawn to this particular mitzvah, as well as to the physicality of it, from the soft colors and comfort of the bathhouse to the privacy and bit of luxury associated with it. “Everything is meant so that when a woman walks in, she says, ‘Wow, this is something I want to get into; this is something that speaks to me.’ ”
She hopes that women, through learning about the laws of mikvah and family purity, will become more connected to their Judaism: “With what I learned and the way I was raised, I can help pass on these traditions.”
Resident Deborah Lasarow says the mikvah is just one of many of the Goldbergs’ numerous accomplishments and resources they’ve brought to the community in such a short time.
Having been there a little more than a year, Lasarow notes that while she didn’t see the building progress in its various stages, she can appreciate the kind of work it took to complete such a project. “The fact that they have been able to make the whole thing happen so quickly is just amazing,” she says.
The mikvah will be an asset for tourists and locals alike, she adds. Until now, many women simply used the sea, which as a running body of water is acceptable, although it certainly doesn’t provide for proper modesty.
Lasarow, having come from another community with a Chabad in Malibou, Calif., was impressed to see that a mikvah was in progress when she arrived in Playa del Carmen. She says the times she has used one have been meaningful, profound and beautiful.
“It’s something that I’m looking toward returning to and incorporating into my life,” she says. “That it’s an opportunity for any and every Jewish woman here to be exposed to is just very enriching.”
The experience of the mikvah is a moving one, she affirms: “To have the thought and the intention and the love and spirituality that it is being built with and designed with, and then offering that to enrich and deepen the religious and spiritual quality of a woman’s life can only be meaningful. It’s another thing to add to your ability to grow as a spiritual and religious person.”